Parliament calls for airport slot reform

vienna airport.jpg

This article is part of our special report Greening aviation.

In a bid to tackle the expected doubling of air traffic by 2030, MEPs have called for increased transparency and competitiveness in the allocation of airport slots.

On Tuesday (10 July), the European Parliament backed a reform which it is hoped would increase efficiency and competition as airports become saturated.

"It is vital that we tackle this new demand," said Italian Giommaria Uggias, the MEP responsible for compiling the report.

Regulators would impose a ‘use it or lose it’ policy and sanctions for airlines that abuse slot allocation.

Under the proposed legislation, airlines would also pay a ‘remuneration fee’ for occupying a slot over a period of time to avoid monopolies and larger airlines ‘sitting’ on slots.

Uggias said airlines could also buy and trade slots, with an impartial regulatory body would be put in place to ensure a fair market.

British MEP Phil Bennion (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), warned that regional airlines could be threatened by the open market.

Bennion said smaller aircraft from the outlying regions could potentially be frozen out of airport hubs by larger airlines that had bought up all available slots.

However, Uggias said regulations would be put in place to deal with a potential “freezing out” scenario, enabling coordinators to “refuse the confirmation of the sale of a slot if it is considered that this may impair regional connectivity with major European hubs.”

British MEP Jacqueline Foster (European Conservatives and Reformists) dismissed the idea of such a “market failure”.

“Most slots for intercontinental airlines need feeder aircraft from smaller peripheral regions,” she said, adding that “freezing out wouldn’t be a good business model.”

In any case, under the Uggias proposal the market for slots would not be entirely open.

“We must stress the public utility of slots, whose allocation should not be possible without mediation between the public interest and the airlines individual needs”, he said.

German MEP Michael Cramer (Greens/European Free Alliance) said liberalisation and competitiveness offered the most sustainable model for the slot market.

He claimed Europe was undergoing an “artificial aviation boom” due to tax breaks and other incentives for EU airlines.

Cramer said that a low-budget airline model where passengers can “fly for the price of a taxi” was not sustainable, claiming that without a proper market economy, high running costs would lead “sooner or later to a collapse”.

“Airlines need a market economy,” he said.

Uggias said that the European aviation industry needed to respond to competition from outside the EU, such as the rapidly growing Asian-Pacific market.

?Single European Sky

??The Parliament's transport committee voted Tuesday (10 July) calling for the Commission to prod EU members states to meet their Single European Sky (SES) commitments. Slow progress on SES "carries high economic and environmental costs",  said German ALDE MEP Gesine Meissner.

Meissner said that the potential growth of Europe's aviation industry was being hampered by countries' failure to create functional airspace blocks, or FABs, and to open up military airspace to civilian traffic.

"Today flights quite often don't take the most direct route but fly zigzag routes because airspace is often reserved for military use", she said.

Meissner said member states had failed to meet SES legislative targets such as trans-national air traffic control cooperation, and an 'EU performance scheme' aimed at establishing shorter flight routes and fewer delays for air traffic control services.

Meissner lamented the resulting economic and environmental costs.

"The implications of this delay are tangible: billions of euros, thousands of jobs and millions of tons of CO2 unnecessarily wasted", she said.

EP Foster also called on the EU to upgrade technology and improve efficiency in the use of airspace as outlined in the draft resolution, which she compiled, as soon as possible "to avoid the consumer having to pay twice: in time and price".

Irish MEP Jim Higgins of the European People’s Party commented that the aviation industry badly needed competition, pointing to the benefits that came from Ryannair putting pressure on other airlines to cut costs.

Rapporteur for the SES legislation MEP Jacqueline Foster said there were "long term benefits" to the initiative and suggested it receive funding from both public and private sources.

Under plans for functional air blocks, or FABS, 27 EU nations – plus Bosnia, Croatia, Norway and Switzerland – are to produce plans to coordinate air traffic control within nine FABs by 4 December 2012.

These nine FABS would gradually reduce the 68 air traffic control centres in the 31 countries that now monitor the 28,000 flights a day in European airspace.

On 1 December 2011, the European Commission proposed a 'use it or lose it' legislation to improve the use of flight slots in the EU from 2014 onwards by confiscating those that were not used correctly by airlines.

The Single European Sky initiative was launched by the EU executive in 2004 to increase the overall efficiency and safety of air traffic by providing a common European airspace with shared rules and standards and high-performance air traffic control infrastructure and technology.

  • 12 Sept. 2012: The Parliament is to make amendments to common rules for the allocation of airport slots
  • Mid Oct. 2012: A committee is expected to vote on the proposal
  • Dec. 2012: A plenary hearing is expected

Subscribe to our newsletters